Outrage over city blackouts

2017-06-23 13:45
Electricity outages believed to be ‘deliberate acts of sabotage’ by striking workers.

Electricity outages believed to be ‘deliberate acts of sabotage’ by striking workers. (File)

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A crippling electricity department strike has affected several suburbs in the city, leaving thousands of households in the dark.

Pelham, Scottsville, Hilton, Sweetwaters and parts of the city centre were without power on Thursday with many other suburbs affected intermittently.

Other areas affected include Northdale, Imbali, Boughton and Prestbury.

The provincial Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta), has called for an investigation into what appear to be “deliberate acts of sabotage”.

Cogta spokesperson Lennox Mabaso said: “Preliminary information indicates that these are deliberately orchestrated by some individuals. While KZN Cogta respects the rights of anyone concerned with the decisions of the municipality to voice their grievances, the department takes a dim view of illegal activities such as the deliberate switch-off of electricity infrastructure with an intention to cause harm to residents and businesses.”

Mabaso said Cogta urged the municipality to open channels of engagement with anyone who has an issue to raise with the municipality, “but acts of anarchy cannot be tolerated”.

“Tampering with electricity to cause a blackout is a sabotage action that is counter-productive and infringes on the rights of other citizens and deserves the harshest of punishment by our legal institutions,” he said.

Mabaso said the municipality apologises to all ratepayers for the current electricity interruptions and inconvenience.

On Wednesday, The Witness was inundated with calls and e-mails from frustrated readers who wanted answers from the municipality on when the power would be restored.

City manager Sizwe Hadebe, Msunduzi mayor Themba Njilo and other managers within the City hierarchy could not be reached for comment, but municipal spokesperson Thobeka Mafumbatha said the power outages were due to the strike.

Mafumbatha said she had no further update on the strike but the municipality believed that the power outages were as a result of sabotage by the striking workers.

She said Hadebe was in talks with the workers but, at the time of going to print, they had not reached an agreement.

Workers downed tools last Thursday after 49 workers were suspended for participating in a protest outside City Hall last month.

Angry residents who called the municipal call centre said they were told “bluntly” that the electricity department was on strike and there was no telling when the strike would end.

One concerned resident living in the city centre said she was particularly worried as her husband relied on an oxygen tank powered by electricity to breathe.

“He uses the oxygen tank for 24 hours and now his health is in dire straits. We have not had power since Wednesday and now the oxygen is running out and I have no idea what to do,” said the panicked woman, who did not want to be named.

She said if the power did not return she would be forced to take her husband to a hospital for the necessary care. “This entire situation is being handled pathetically. People’s lives are now in danger and the municipality still does not care,” she said.

Napierville residents said the sudden power outage in their area resulted in their appliances and light-bulbs exploding.

Numerous residents living in Hilton said their electricity was cut off at around 7.30 pm on Wednesday.

Residents questioned whether the City had considered hiring private contractors to attend to the power outages while municipal workers downed tools.

Mafumbatha said they did issue instructions to some contractors to “sort out the problem”.

However, speaking to The Witness on condition of anonymity, one contractor said the municipality still had not paid contractors since March this year.

“They [the municipality] will be very lucky to get contractors to work for them because we have been battling to get paid for months now. Our people are hungry and they just do not seem to care for anyone but themselves,” said the contractor.

DA caucus leader Sibongiseni Majola said they are “extremely disturbed, angered and highly frustrated” with the lack of communication from the municipality.

He said the feedback has been “little, insufficient and really not tangible” to motivate any plan or solution to resolve the electricity issues.

“It is further frustrating and highly disturbing that all parties involved ... cannot come to an agreement in more than a week and this has affected this city’s service delivery, the municipality’s assets and the economic interests of the municipality,” he said.

Majola said the municipality’s “total disregard” showed that the leadership in the municipality care more for their own interests than those of the people they serve.

“How and why was this allowed to get this far?

“If this municipality simply complies with legislation and manages its responsibilities in a open and transparent manner, these situations would be avoided,” Majola said.

IFP executive committee member Dennis Ntombela echoed Majola’s sentiments, calling for City management to speak to the striking workers as well as the community.

“It seems like the strikers are [frustrated] because no one from the municipality is listening to them.

“The municipality obviously have nothing to say and that is ridiculous,” Ntombela said.

PCB slams poor communications

Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business CEO Melanie Veness lambasted the City’s management team for the “communication darkness”.

“It is absolutely inexcusable that people who are paid with our money are withholding our services.

“It is appalling that the City management has not acted on the issues we are facing as yet,” said Veness.

She said that businesses and hospitals contacted her asking when the electricity would return to their areas.

“The municipality is putting people out of business and out of jobs,” she said

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